When the Wall Street journal editorials have to resort to circumlocutions such as “starts with n and rhymes with ‘jigger'” in order to make reference to a language token something is terribly wrong. We have arrived at a point where language token referents are indistinguishable from the token’s connotation. I personally don’t like the word and think that the English language would be better without it, but it still is in use, primarily by the black community. And as long as its usage is prevalent, scholars and pundits should have the ability to refer to the word, with implicit Quine corners, as a referent without outrage and abuse heaped upon them (assuming the authors are Caucasian), if only in rants such as this. That this is true can been seen in this rant’s title — where WordPress filters on the whole word.
Richard Pryor, in one commentary reflected on a trip he made to Africa. “Hey Rich, look around. Do you see any niggers? (to himself). And I realized that there weren’t any. Only people. And that ‘nigger’ was a description of our own wretchedness. From that day forward I never used the work in my act.”(comment)
Language and thought are intertwined. Without the internal dialog of language, thoughts are meaningless, and the extent and variety of thoughts are controlled by the limitations imposed by language. It is said that Chinese doctors have 27 descriptions of the human pulse—a block of wood floating on the water, as an example,and that the fine gradations of the pulse assists in the diagnosis of disease, whereas a pulse to the Western diagnostician is basically strong, weak or nonexistent. The Western diagnostic thought process is limited by the language.
[Here I have to thank Angryman Mildlypiqued for pointing out that times have changed. The last time I used this argument, that was the case. Apparently, Western Doctors have caught up with the Chinese.]
In the Indonesian language, the simplicity of the structure precludes many thoughts necessary for understanding of Western technology. The hyphenated word ‘pre-position’, meaning to place an object in a certain location, requires a full paragraph in Bahasa Indonesia. Contrariwise, the second person Western word “you” expands into a complex plethora of familial and personal relationships in Indonesian.
If, as Richard Pryor suggests, the word portrays the condition of the black population’s wretchedness, then perhaps the elimination of its use will preclude the mental image of that wretchedness, elevating the black consciousness above that state. The rap and gansta musicians (used with some reserve) would do well to emulate Mr. Pryor. And the Jacksons and Sharptons would do even better not castigating analysts who attempt to point this out.